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  • Writer's pictureNate

Exploring Malta - inspiration for Worldbuilding.

Took the dogs out for the day, exploring the so-called Wied il-Ghasel (Valley of Honey) in the town of Mosta. It was suggested by my girlfriend whose been looking for new places we can explore with our faithful furbabies.

I took some photos of the walk, which took a little under 2-hours, and thought I’d take the time to give a bit of insight into where I find inspiration in day-to-day activities, and how I implement that inspiration in my Worldbuilding.

1. The entrance into the valley is perpendicular and one can either travel up to the west, or down to the east. Our chosen path would take us east, but we had a quick look at the west, which revealed what looks like an aqueduct. I wasn't able to find out much more about it, but thought I'd post a picture here.

aqueduct, heading west, up Wied il-Ghasel

2. After a few minutes of walking we came to the bridge, which, when standing underneath it really looks impressive and looming, though I know in the grand scheme of things it’s hardly an impressive bridge.

Of note are the bird-boxes stuck high up the columns and the stepped foundations. This is where my imagination started to rev up. I’ve always been fascinated by architecture, and bridges especially, particularly those with buildings on top of them, like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence; or under them like Brooklyn Bridge. Of particular interest have been bridges linking buildings across streets, or doors built into their bases, where doors have no right to be. I’ve similarly always been fascinated by stories of people, often disparagingly-called mole-people, living in storm drains or disused underground stations. I can imagine a staircase built into the column, leading to some hidden room, or secret chamber.

For some history, this version of the bridge is pretty recent, having been built in the 1980’s, as increasing traffic found the older bridge, built some 100-years earlier in 1896, unable to cope.

construction of the original bridge in 1896

original bridge, following its contruction in 1896

3. Time to stop for a moment to have a taste of Maltese folkore, in the form of the Legend of the Bride of Mosta (l-Gharusa tal-Mosta), which features a local cave.

an impostor!

Not much to look at really, but the legend is quaint, and one I always liked. Not much to it and featuring Malta’s favourite historical enemies, the Turks, whose privateers and corsairs harassed out coastal settlements, raiding them for slaves, for many centuries. The story goes a little something like this:

"A young shepherd girl was tending to her flock close to the valley, and was spotted by a group of Turkish pirates going up the valley from the coast. She fled and found a cave, in which she hid, and began praying to Our Lady as the Turks approached, saying she would build a chapel there should she be saved.

Her prayers were supposedly answered and a large spider emerged from the cave, spinning a thick web, covering the entrance. When the Turkish invaders approached the cave, the saw that the webs were undisturbed and carried on, reasoning that she could not have gone inside, giving her chance to escape.

The chapel was later built on the site, close a picturesque bridge."

Disclaimer - this isn't the cave that features in the story, but for many years (until today, when I did a bit more research on the subject, actually) I was under the impression that this was the cave concerned. The actual cave is a few miles to the north-west, found close to another bridge, in Wied Speranza (Valley of Hope).

Wied Speranza, and the Speranza Chapel - Richard Ellis

This is a fun little story that could fit in any world as a short piece of folklore, and is the type of folk tale I'd like to make for Elyden one day - maybe a series of short stories :)

4. Not much here, but a bush that we don’t see very often around here - Smilax Aspera, or Mediterranean Smilax. The berries look tempting but are apparently ‘bitter and unpalatable to humans’. According to wikipedia their common name is smilax, rough bindweed, sarsaparille, and Mediterranean smilax - none of which I've heard of to be honest.

This gives me a subtle bit of inspiration for a roleplaying game - the adventurers have been travelling in a remote valley, and just before their food begins to run out they come cross these lovely-looking berries. Shame there’s no ranger with them to identify the plant...

Smilax Aspera

5. We finally got to the Chapel of St. Paul the Hermit (my sort of saint), which rests on the north side of the valley, looking towards the bridge. It’s quite interesting, and I wish I had taken more photos. The floor outside the chapel is covered in guano (pigeon and bat, by the looks of it) and a handful of broken pigeon eggs and bones in varying states of decay.

This reminded me of tales of so-called bird-men, which I’ve incorporated into the lore of Elyden, and which I find very evocative.

the chapel of St. Paul the Hermit

This is the most common version of the story surrounding the chapel that I could find, though there isn’t much to it:

"Before the chapel was erected, the cave was home to a devout hermit who would preach to the villagers to embrace god and forsake their sinful ways. Fed up of his rebukes, they chased him down the valley, to the sea, some miles away, where he lay his cloak onto the sea and walked on the water to the nearby isle of Gozo. Amazed and repentant, the villagers built a chapel dedicated to him in the cave where he lived."

close-up of the chapel

I could easily imagine a templar guarding this chapel against intruders in a fantasy setting, accepting gifts of food and drink from locals in return for his vigilance. What is he guarding?

a history of the chapel, and the legend surrounding it

the interior of the chapel

6. And now we come to the part of the walk that really sparked my imagination. At the base of the valley, over an hour’s walk from the main bridge I came across this - that appears to be the remains of an old bridge or possibly aqueduct. A little research showed that the arches belonged to an old english military defensive wall known as the Victoria Lines that once crossed Malta (think Hadrian's Wall, but for the 19th century). I indeed you can just about see the ruins of the rest of the wall, on either side of it, still standing on either side of the steep valley wall.

I found this extremely evocative and very reminiscent of the art of Hubert Roberts and other artists who painted scenes in which people could be seen in ruins. I love that art, its so lush with possibility and questions as to what the ruins were, who these people are and why are they lounging on them so nonchalantly.

I can easily imagine a group of scavengers building a shanty out of corrugated steel or rotting wood around this, with sheep and goats under one of the arches, with a kitchen and sleeping quarters beneath the others.

Anyhow, I thought this was a really interesting find.

7. Towards the end of the walk I came across an old ‘tower’ - little more than a couple of

rooms, this probably belonged to farmers who once tended to the groves of olives and carob trees that line the shallow terraces in the base of the valley. The building appears to have been taken over by hunters who fill most of Malta's green areas.

I don’t know why but I got flashbacks to the Blair Witch house when I saw this. To be honest, if I was wandering the valley on my own in the dark, I’d probably get a bit freaked out. What can I say, I have an active imagination!

Some other photos from the walk:

I came across a small campsite with mushrooms growing in it (possibly Psathyrella Sp., but not sure). That's a big deal in Malta as the climate is so dry, even in winter, that we don't see many mushrooms here at all, outside of the dampest shadiest valleys.

You can also see my dogs here, photobombing the my find!

Towards the end of the walk I also came across a century-plant, a from of agave

common all over Malta, which I just love - I've added these and fictional versions of them to Elyden, whose denizens make clothing out of the fibres, use the pulp in medicines, and have even come up with an alcohol that's drunk around the Inner Sea, called bran, which is similar to Mezcal. This particular one was close to 8-ft. tall and quite expansive. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a better shot of it.

So, that was my morning today. As you can see, a simple walk around with my dogs revealed a couple of interesting features I wasn’t aware of, making me research them, and giving me a handful of ideas I can modify and extrapolate from in my worldbuilding and writing projects.

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